New Strikes in Greece, Citizens Protest Hits 20th Day
The government is battling protests against its austerity programme on three fronts; strikes by public sector unions against its privatisation programme; ordinary citizens protesting Greece's financial crisis in Syntagma Square; and private sector trade unions who are against economic reforms including the opening of 'closed' trades like the pharmacy profession.
Tomorrow's strike was called by Greece's two largest trade unions, the General Confederation of Employees (GSEE) and the civil servant's union federation ADEDY. Air traffic, health services and public transport - including shipping traffic - will effectively grind to a halt during the 24-hour strike.
Next Monday June 20th, the Public Power Corporation union is expected to start a series of 48-hour strikes against further privatisation of the utility.
Greece's financial crisis forces privatisation programme
In May, the Greek government announced that it is to immediately sell off state assets in a privatisation programme aimed at raising six billion euros in 2011 and a further 22 billion between 2012 and 2015. By the end of June, the Public Property Fund will be created to handle transactions as the state sells immovable property ports, airports, and highways.
At the same time, there will be cuts in high pensions and tax increases, according to the Ministry of Social Insurance. Government spokesman George Petalotis said that the aim is to reduce the deficit and reduce public debt as a percentage of GDP to the target of 7.5 percent.
The Hellenic government has put a rush on the privatisation programme after Eurozone finance ministers warned it on sticking to targets agreed upon in the 2010 bailout package. Without the release of the fifth installment of an EU-IMF bailout, the country will be unable to pay its public servant salaries or pensions, and will "close their doors," said Finance Minister Geroge Papaconstantinou in an interview with Sky TV.
In 2010, the IMF and EU agreed to lend 110 billion euros to debt-stricken Greece, saving it from defaulting on its sovereign bonds and averting significant damage to the euro currency. But the measures failed to reassure international investors amid a new downgrade of the country's sovereign credit by S&P's which cut its rating on Greece to CCC, making it the lowest-ranked country in the world under Ecuador and Jamaica.